God called me to Madagascar November 2007 when I heard Rev. Patsy McGregor speak in Miami. After three short term missions I finally arrived in March 2018 with a commitment to be here for 3 years to work at the Women’s Center in Toliara. I retired from teaching high school March 2017.
I thought my purpose here was to teach the women and as I had experienced time here as a short term missionary I unfortunately assumed I knew what to expect. Was I wrong, for three months I studied the language (a very difficult language and each area has their own dialect). I have always struggled with language learning and this was no different. I felt isolated and lonely, living on a compound with mostly Malagasy people and two couples from the West. I lived in a room at the women’s center that has all the basic amenities, electricity and running water. I craved communication with people who speak the same language and have experienced a similar culture.
I struggled for nine months, talking regularly with God and often angry and frustrated, asking Why am I here, when I feel like a fish out of water. I would have what I called regular melt downs and say I‘m going home, but something kept me here. I have to say a thank you to my son James who always told me to stay because I had worked hard for a long time to come here.
December 2018 I decided to take a break. I went to England for Christmas and spent time with my two brothers and family and actually enjoyed the cold and rain after the intense dryness & heat of Madagascar. During the time I was in England I felt Jesus telling me to rest in his arms and to spend time walking and visiting with extended family.
I then went to a SAMS retreat in Cape Town in February and God revealed to me why I was in Madagascar. Teaching is a small part of my work, but my main purpose is to be a prayer warrior.
In England I had attended a silent retreat and learnt what a Postinia is and actually used one. At the retreat the speaker, Rev. Richard Copeland talked at length about prayer and also what a Postinia is, a room usually with no windows where one goes to pray and meditate. I do not have a Postinia in Madagascar but most afternoons I go outside and sit under the trees to pray and meditate.
God persevered with me and his call for me to be here with the people of Madagascar to give them hope and joy. This year I have found joy and peace and there are still struggles but God is there with me in the suffering and I learn more each day.
“Where there is a will, there is a way”- especially if it is the will of God. Ron McKeon, SAMS missionary with his wife Debby since 2008, was not one to accept tragic circumstances as an excuse not to follow God’s call. As we wrap up our focus on perseverance this Advent with our SAMS theme “Keep Calm and #CarryOnAdvent,” we would be amiss not to give tribute to a minister of the Gospel who persistently gave witness on Earth to the glory of his “Lord, Savior, and Friend,” until he went home to God on September 28, 2019.
Ron speaks to Portuguese parishioners in 2006.
At the time of his passing, many of our Society were together at the New Wineskins Conference in North Carolina. During the announcements before Eucharist on Sunday morning, New Wineskins Director Jenny Noyes recapped Ron’s call to ministry powerfully while sharing the sad news of his death: “[Ron] was diagnosed with tongue cancer in 2003, and they removed his tongue and thought he couldn’t eat or talk again through the mouth. But God had called him to be a preacher, and he obeyed- not only did he learn how to eat and swallow, not only did he learn how to talk and how to be able to be heard and understood without a tongue- but He was ordained and God called him and Debby to Brazil- where he learned Portuguese.”
Filled to overflowing with God’s love by the Holy Spirit, Ron and Debby engaged in ministry in Brazil initially through short term trips, year after year. They stayed with a different church family each time so as to build genuine relationships. Ron engaged in preaching and pastoral care of clergy and laity, magnetically engaging youth with the love of God after church services. Debby trained children’s ministry teachers with Portuguese translations of the program Godly Play, empowering them to raise up other teachers. In 2015, Ron and Debby became full-time missionaries and moved to Brazil. Ron and Debby dedicated themselves to helping the Anglican churches in João Pessoa grow spiritually, numerically and missionally–especially through equipping Brazilian leaders for ministry.
Debby trains children’s ministry teachers in the Portuguese translations of Godly Play, “Na Presença do Pai.”
Ron McKeon’s life could be described as a path in the footsteps of several biblical figures. Ron’s daughter Anna reflects on his life, and the road he travelled to ordination: “I always thought he portrayed a bit of Jonah- he would switch jobs searching for the right one yet he always knew that God was calling him to go to seminary and become a priest, but he didn’t think he was the right person for the job. God was calling him to ministry and kept sending ‘whales’ until he finally said- okay, I will go into ministry. He had some Job in him too- his brother died in the World Trade Center attacks, and then a year later his mother passed away, and then four months later he got tongue cancer. But, like Job, he was never angry, he didn’t say ‘oh, forget God.’”
Far from it! The saving grace of God, as well as a second chance to serve Him on earth, joyfully propelled Ron not only to remember God, but also to share worshipfully the love of God with the people of João Pessoa, Brazil.
This time of year, Christians are likely to hear or read the Angel Gabriel’s consolation to the Virgin Mary regarding the first Advent of our Lord Jesus. “How will this be?” she asked. “Nothing is impossible with God,” the angel said. Armed with the knowledge of the Spirit’s miraculous favor upon her and her cousin Elizabeth, Mary carried our Lord, Savior, and friend in the womb, persevering in the face of social disgrace. Her betrothed, Joseph, also placed his confidence in God, caring for Mary and the Holy Child in Bethlehem and as refugees in Egypt. Ron likely heard a similar message from God- nothing is impossible with Him. Ron’s miraculous ability to taste food, to talk and be understood in spite of new speech impediments astounded doctors and medical students. It was impossible. Well, God specializes in “the impossible.”
The relational depth of Ron and Debby’s ministry was evident in the love and care they received back from the Brazilian church community, the Anglican Diocese of João Pessoa, as Ron fought an aggressive cancer. His family shared how this church community “surrounded this ‘couple of Christ’ with love, support, and assistance with the cultural uniqueness of Brazilian daily life. And so, as Ron’s days grew short, this special form of Brazilian love and support grew to immense importance for both him and Debby.” Over Ron’s last few weeks the clergy of the diocese held an around the clock prayer vigil by his bedside.
SAMS Mission Director Stewart Wicker passed on a story from Diocesan Bishop Marcio Meira of Brazil of Ron’s perseverance in spite of devastating setbacks in the weeks before his death. “It was made clear to Ron that he would not ever speak again. So when Bishop Marcio went to visit him, he was surprised to see that Ron had a guitar since he had never seen Ron play one. Ron was able to communicate to the bishop that he had just picked it up because if he was never to preach again, he would learn the guitar to praise the Lord in order to continue his ministry there.” Ron carried on the hope of the Gospel to the very end of his life- he never took his limitations as an excuse not to give witness to the greatness of God. He continues to worship God in heaven, joyfully anticipating with us the day when Christ will make all things new.
How did Ron never give up? How did he maintain hope after losing his brother, his mother, his tongue, and finally his voice? He learned that his identity was not in the fulfillment of his plans and hopes, but as a servant “hidden with Christ in God.” While giving the missionary testimony at New Wineskins Global Mission Conference 2013 (which you can view here), Ron concluded:
“The unexpected is God’s plan for my life. Only with a life hidden with Christ in God can Debby and I put all that we possess, even our very lives at risk, to serve God alongside our brothers and sisters wherever we are sent, that all may have the opportunity to hear the Gospel of peace and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
Happy Advent to you! We’re grateful for this season in the church year of anticipation, hope, and repentance.
One of the recurring themes in our time with the Fellows is that they are citizens of the Kingdom of God, and as citizens they play a critical role in building up that Kingdom so that we can see it on earth as it is in heaven. The idea of citizenship in a heavenly Kingdom is not always an easy thing to grasp for our Fellows or for any Jesus follower.
A few weeks ago we were meditating on the story of the Ascension from the Acts of the Apostles with Nate and Christian. The disciples have listened to Jesus describe what the Kingdom looks like, they’ve seen him bring healing and wholeness to those who were outside and far off, and at the Ascension they still ask Jesus when he will restore the kingdom to Israel. Yes, yes Jesus. Freedom for the captive, clothes for the naked, food for the hungry. Blah, blah, blah. But when will we get our powerful political kingdom back?
One of the guys admitted that at times it is hard for him to grasp what this whole Kingdom to Build Up thing is that we talk about all of the time. And so I reminded him.
Remember that time you were taking the bus home and someone asked you for help? He was visiting the States from Croatia and was struggling to figure out where his hotel was and how to navigate the bus system to get there. You went out of your way to help him. And in doing so the Kingdom came.
Remember when our other Fellow was walking home and stopped to chat with a homeless man asking for money? Remember how your partner took the man to a pizza shop, bought him a pizza, and sat and listened to his story? The Kingdom came that day.
Remember the signs your host family made for you when you first arrived in Pittsburgh? Remember how it has felt to be invited to their family table for meals? In being welcomed into a new family you have experienced the Kingdom come.
Erika and I are so incredibly thankful that we get to give our Fellows these reminders. We are so thankful that we get to walk with them through hard conversations, hard passages of scripture, and hard places in their lives. And we are so thankful that we do not walk there alone. When we teach our Fellows what the Kingdom of God looks like, smells like, tastes like, you are there with us. When we teach English to students from 29 different countries, you are with us. And when we are in Thailand, where it is estimated that 70% of the population is unreached by the Good News of Jesus Christ, you are with us. 2019 has been a year of great challenge for our family. Through it all we have felt your prayers and encouragement. We can’t thank you enough.
May 2020 be a year where you see God’s Kingdom come on your street, in your place of work, at your kitchen table, and in every aspect of your life.
One of my favorite things about being a lecturer is supervising our students in their block placement churches, or senior internships. It’s so fun to see them out of the confines of the school and to see how they’re engaging in ministry. Of course, sometimes this comes with hardship, but that makes for great teachable moments and opportunities for exhortation.
Today I went to a university chapel to supervise Barnabas, one of the MDiv students. I know the chaplain there, so we all spent a good amount of time catching up and talking about Barnabas’s time there. At the end, Barnabas asked to take a photo, which I thought was sweet.
Imagine my surprise when I received a copy of another of the photos from one of his classmates! It turns out that the class has been uploading photos with their supervisors to their group chat in WhatsApp. I guess I’m honored to have joined the gallery!
I’ve been hearing that the rain in Mukono, and in Uganda generally, has been too much. The rainy seasons often bring mudslides, so news of those was not new.
But friends. In my first week here, it rained every day, often several times a day. The ground is beyond saturated. There is one corner I need to navigate to leave the Honors College, and it is absolutely a swamp. It rarely sees the sun, so who knows when it will dry.
The BBC explained that this is because of the Indian Ocean Diople, similar to El Niño. This article is from 2 December, and the graphic notes that Uganda had 9 deaths due to the rain then; a newspaper headline two days ago said the death toll was up to 25.
Farmers are seeing their crops obliterated. This hurts the farmers and their families because they will have nothing to harvest and nothing to sell. This, of course, will also inflate food prices for the foreseeable future, so the impact will be long-lasting and will affect the entire population.
The last few days, we have actually had sun most of the time, thanks be to God. But the rain continues to wreak havoc. Today’s paper posted an article that a roads worker was killed by a flash-flood on Entebbe Road. The death toll from flooding and mudslides continues to rise. A student in Tanzania texted me Wednesday that his family narrowly survived when their roof collapsed from the rain there.
Road construction is happening everywhere, even on campus. However, the rain has obviously had an impact; traffic is all but impossible with torn-up roads being further deteriorated by rain. We use this space behind the Bishop Tucker building to gather for discipleship and before and after chapel services. Well, we used to. I’m sure we will again, though it won’t be at the beginning of the January semester.
Please do pray that the rain go away. I’ve asked God to send it to South Africa or Australia… surely He can send it to a place that needs it terribly.